After a 24-hour visit to Iraq where he met with senior U.S. officials and Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum, the commander of U.S. Central Command said he is “very concerned about the current security situation” and called for the quick formation of a new government that includes Sunni, Shia and Kurds.
Iraq “is an important country that is facing some very formidable challenges exacerbated by ISIL’s (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) push into Iraq and declaration of a caliphate,” Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III said in a statement to the Tribune. “Today, I met with senior Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum, to include Shia, Sunnis and Kurds. In our conversations I reinforced the importance of quickly forming a government that is inclusive and representative of all Iraqis. I also underscored the point that, in the absence of political movement, any support the U.S. Government might consider providing could have only limited, short-term effects.”
Austin, whose headquarters is at MacDill Air Force Base, oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq and 19 other nations in a region stretching from Egypt to Pakistan. Aside from meeting with Iraqi leaders, he also spent time visiting with U.S. troops, according to Army Maj. Brian Fickel, a Centcom spokesman.
The New York Times reports that Iraq’s leaders selected Fouad Massoum, “a longtime Kurdish politician and former guerrilla fighter who took up arms against Saddam Hussein’s regime, on Thursday as the country’s new president, an important step in forming a new government that the international community and Iraq’s religious authorities have called for and described as crucial to confronting a growing Sunni insurgency.”
Last week, Centcom presented its draft assessment evaluating how the United States might potentially help Iraqi security forces to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. The assessment was compiled by 300 special operations forces who were ordered to Iraq by President Barack Obama.
There are other U.S. military assets in the region, according to the Pentagon. Hagel has ordered the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush into the Arabian Gulf and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets have been making more than 50 sorties a day.
Austin said that it was up to Iraqi forces to turn the tide against the Sunni insurgents who have captured several Iraqi cities and are threatening Baghdad.
“We also discussed the need for Iraq to stop ISIL, and ultimately regain control of its borders and sovereign space, in order to curb ISIL’s freedom of action,” Austin told the Tribune. “Ultimately, progress of any kind will be dependent upon the Iraqis making the right decisions and putting in place needed reforms to ensure meaningful accommodation among the country’s diverse ethno-sectarian groups. There is tough work to be done; however, I do remain hopeful that the Iraqis will take the necessary steps in the days ahead.”